To have the “perfect” night, you need to make sure you hit all the criteria.
Is the sun setting and is there a light breeze?
Are my closest friends with me and am I drinking my favorite brew?
Is the soundtrack to the perfect night spinning in my stereo?
You can only check this off if said soundtrack is Stay Positive, the fourth studio album from The Hold Steady.
The Brooklyn quintet has a knack for spinning intricate tales of drinking, friendship, the good times and the bad. Vocalist and guitarist Craig Finn is a master at his craft; his vocals are gruff yet inviting, his lyrics deep yet simple. Produced by John Agnello, Stay Positive is eleven tracks chock full of big riffs, beautiful keys, and raw energy throughout.
The album begins with what might be the best song of the summer, the aptly titled “Constructive Summer,” a fast-paced track that gets your buzz going early that tells of wanting to “build something this summer,” while the group vocals urge you to “get hammered.” Personally, I’m most constructive when I’m drinking, so this is right up my avenue. The good times continue with the piano-driven rocker “Sequestered In Memphis.” With its addicting melody and chorus, it’ll be stuck in my head for about as long as a road trip from Texas to Memphis takes.
The Hold Steady musically is as rousing as ever, with some new instruments sprinkled in here and there, such on “One For The Cutters,” a tale woven beautifully by the harpsichord and telling of how ones experiences away from home can change perspective and actions. We get a little banjo on “Both Crosses,” a somber track that touches on religion, and “Navy Sheets” is loud, paced by psyched-out keys played by Franz Nicolay.
The album slows down a bit with the beautifully constructed “Lord, I’m Discouraged.” It’s a lavishing track, encompassing your senses throughout. The title track is one to sing along with and loudly, bursting with “whoa-oh’s” and killer riffs. Finn is frantic behind the mic, as Bobby Drake kills it on drums. “Slapped Actress” closes out Positive, with a jagged riff and Finn pleading with you to keep this one last secret for him.
The Hold Steady are what’s right about music today; one of the top five bands currently making music in the entire industry. Lyrically, no one can tell a story like Finn and the music still channels Springsteen with a punk rock and party attitude. You can find flaws in Finn’s vocals, but it’s an acquired taste. And if you’re like me, you’ll find at least one track that you can relate to. Full of soul, optimism, honesty, and empathy, you won’t find much better in 2008, and Stay Positive will definitely be staying atop your Best Of list.